Airlines fight with distribution systems
Some airlines either shun the big GDS entirely or provide only limited participation. The war between airlines and third-party air ticket distributors will not end in the short term.
You can find Frontier's lowest fares on the airline's own website or on any of the big online travel agencies (OTAs) such as Expedia and Orbitz. But now, there's a difference: If you buy through any site other than Frontier's own Flyfrontier.com, you (1) earn only half of the usual frequent flyer miles, (2) can't get advance seat assignments, and (3) will face higher fees for various changes. Although no other airline has copied this particular deal, it's more than an isolated incident: Instead, it's another early skirmish in what looks to be an escalating war between airlines and third-party air ticket distributors. And it's not just an insider war, either; consumers stand the potential to lose some easy ability to compare fares from various lines.
As with most such wars, this one's all about the money. In addition to their own websites, most airlines sell tickets through one or more of the many OTAs. For the most part, the OTAs get their fare information and transact sales through the global distribution systems (GDS) — mainly those three big computerized systems (Amadeus, Sabre, and Travelport) that control most such distribution worldwide. Overall, these three systems account for well over half the total sale of domestic airline tickets, in addition to hotel accommodations, rental cars, and most other popular travel services, and virtually all of the sales through travel agencies and other third parties. Even though the GDS systems originated with individual airlines, they're now independent — and in a tug-of-war with their former founders.
The basic conflict is easy to state, Airlines have two objectives: